Why is Parenting a Verb?

Have you ever wondered why there is an entire section of the bookstore devoted to “Parenting”?  Why is that even a verb?  Humans have been raising offspring for millennia, and enough of them have survived and thrived that we are still on the planet.  Why would we need to read books to understand how to care for infants and toddlers, or how to guide our school-aged children towards productive and meaningful lives?  Every single one of us has been a child ourselves, and most of us can remember at least some features of that experience.  Why do we seek so much guidance for what is literally one of the most natural things an adult human can do?

Scientists who study human evolution and culture will tell you that our confusion about the “right” way to care for and raise our children is unusual, and that it is the result of living according to norms and values that reward a focus on material success rather than relational engagement.  We spend so much of our lives preparing for and engaging in “work” that we regularly fail to prioritize people, including our own friends and families.  In doing so, we create a system in which many adults in their 20’s and 30’s rarely come in contact with infants, children, or the elderly, so of course they have no idea what to do with their own children when they eventually arrive.

In the cultures in which we evolved, people of all ages would have interacted with one another all day, every day.  In many cultures, the idea that our elders would live separately from their families and be cared for by unrelated strangers would be incomprehensible, as would the notion that we would hand over our 3-month-old infants to non-relatives for the bulk of their waking hours.  From the perspective of human evolution, these practices are brand new; they are novel experiments in human culture that have not yet demonstrated their value by persisting for thousands of years.  I’m not saying that they are wrong.  But even our own great grandparents might be confused if we tried to explain them.

Our culture has been enormously successful in advancing science, reason, the arts, and every other aspect of human existence. When it comes to family, friends, community, and relationships, we keep trying to find or recreate wisdom that is naturally acquired through everyday experience in many other societies.

Some of the diseases we are struggling with most are the result of this wisdom gap — addiction, depression and anxiety, as well as obesity, heart disease, diabetes, and cancer have all been correlated with social isolation, poor stress management, and lack of social support.  According to a recent article in the International Journal of Epidemiology, mortality among those who are socially isolated is between 2 and 5 times higher than those with strong ties to friends, family, and community.

Religious communities are designed around the very principles that our culture has recently abandoned, and though we live longer and continue to develop miraculous technology, we are less religious than any prior point in human history.  Schools like Gesher are better equipped than other fine independent schools to teach children the skills they need to live healthy, meaningful lives, because we provide both academic excellence and core Jewish values and practices.  

Our children learn in community, and thereby learn the value of community.  Our culture is a family, and is intentionally designed to transmit wisdom from generation to generation.  Our graduates go on to success in life because they have been immersed in a healthy culture since they were 4 and 5 years old.  I want that for my children, and our team works hard to make sure this precious resource is available to anchor our Jewish community for many years to come.

Wishing you and yours a Shabbat Shalom, and a Chag Sameach (Happy Holiday),